Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 4th, 2012

Can you guess which states are going to kick the poor off Medicaid?

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I can. The Deep South, for starters, and all states dominated by Republicans. Here’s what’s happening, as reported by Phil Galewitz in McClatchy:

Starting in 2014, things could get worse for people on Medicaid: Not only might some states opt out of increasing the number of adults in the government health-insurance program for the poor as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, but they also might cut people who now are enrolled.

This wasn’t supposed to happen under President Barack Obama’s health law, which was designed to expand coverage for 30 million Americans, in part by adding 17 million people to Medicaid. But the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling last week making the expansion voluntary is likely to be compounded by another provision in the law that the justices left intact: In 2014, states no longer are barred from making it harder for adults to qualify for Medicaid.

Experts worry that those two developments taken together could spur some states to reduce the number of people covered.

States could throw some low-income adults “into a black hole with nowhere to turn for coverage,” said Deborah Bachrach, who was New York’s Medicaid director until 2010 and now is special counsel at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, a New York law firm.

As a hypothetical example, if Mississippi opted out of the 2014 expansion of Medicaid, poor childless adults wouldn’t gain coverage in that state. At the same time, the state could roll back eligibility for parents with children who are currently enrolled, reducing the number of participants in the program.

State officials haven’t talked about cutting Medicaid eligibility since the decision. But in the last several years, many have sought to reduce the cost of the program by cutting providers’ rates and contracting with private managed-care companies, among other strategies.

“It’s a perfectly reasonable concern” that states might make it more difficult for adults to qualify, said Sara Rosenbaum, a health policy professor at George Washington University.

Since 2009, when Congress approved the federal economic-stimulus law, which included additional Medicaid funding, states have been prohibited from reducing eligibility or increasing the cost-sharing requirement for people enrolled in Medicaid. . .

Continue reading. Note the continuing patten of pouring taxpayer money directly into private companies, which can then cut services to increase profits. We’re watching an enormous robbery of the public treasury, now that Wall Street showed how much money there was to be had.

UPDATE: Brian Beutler reports on TPMDC that the pattern of dropping or cutting back Medicaid is exactly as predicted: most states saying that they will take this step have the highest rates of uninsured in the country. And they want to opt out even though the Federal government will pick up the tab. This is truly despicable: it would cost them nothing to help the poor, but they are going to prevent help from coming: the Evil Samaritan who crossed the road to the injured man, kicked him hard since he could offer no resistance, and then blocks medical help. Judging purely by their actions, the GOP truly hates the poor.

Here’s the story:

Many of the governors threatening to stymie implementation of the Affordable Care Act preside over states with high uninsurance rates, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Kaiser data breaks down each state’s population by source of insurance, and by percent uninsured. Unsurprisingly, Massachusetts has the lowest uninsurance rate in the country, thanks to the universal health care bill Mitt Romney signed, and which ultimately became the model for the Affordable Care Act.

But many of the states with high-profile conservative governors vowing to stand athwart the ACA’s progress, by refusing to expand their Medicaid programs and erecting hurdles to establishing insurance marketplaces, would stand to gain the most from successful implementation of the law.

With a 21 percent uninsured rate, Florida is tied with Nevada and New Mexico for second to last place in the country. But conservative Gov. Rick Scott is vowing to opt out of a Medicaid expansion, almost fully financed by the federal government, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the feds cannot threaten states with the loss of all their Medicaid funds for refusing to expand the program.

South Carolina and Louisiana aren’t faring much better with 19 and 17 percent uninsurance rates respectively. Their Republican governors, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, are also planning not to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, both Republicans, are exceptions to the general trend. Though each of them has vowed to fight the ACA however possible, their states enjoy relatively low nine and 12 percent uninsurance rates.

One important caveat: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2012 at 8:57 pm

Wonderfully clear example of how business interests have control of Congress

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And, of course, the Citizens United decision more or less guarantees that Congress and the country will be run by business interests. Welcome to serfdom. David Halperin wrote the following article for Republic Report, and I found it at AlterNet.org, which I highly recommend:

On Wednesday, 20 state attorneys general announced a court settlement with QuinStreet Inc., a marketing company working for for-profit colleges, that will shut down the deceptive website GIBill.com and turn that web address over to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

GIBill.com, until recently, looked a lot like a government website. But people who went there seeking advice on higher education options were always steered to a for-profit college that paid for the privilege. Deceptive marketing like this, along with coercive recruiting tactics, push thousands of our troops and veterans to shoddy for-profit colleges that have high prices, low-quality educations, high dropout rates, and overwhelming loan debts for students. Many struggling Americans have had their lives ruined by for-profit colleges, but troops and veterans are a particular target for predatory schools because of loopholes in federal law.

Since these bad practices have now been widely exposed, why are even the worst actors in the for-profit college industry still sharing in the $32 billion in federal financial aid that goes to this sector every year? One word: Lobbying.

“It’s reached a point now when you get little or nothing done when you take on the for-profit schools in Congress,” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said at a Washington press conference [on Friday] announcing the settlement.  ”Why? They own every lobbyist in town.”

Durbin added, “What the for-profit schools are doing to students and their families across America is shameful. What they’re doing to veterans is disgraceful.”

Durbin was joined at the event by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Scott Gould, and Holly Petraeus of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as Attorneys General Amy Madigan (IL), Beau Biden (DE), and Jack Conway (KY), who is leading a joint investigation of the for-profit college industry by a bipartisan group of 30 state AGs.

The Attorneys General have stepped up to protect students and taxpayers, as Durbin suggested, because the power of big money lobbyists, backed with generous campaign contributions, has made many members of Congress, from both parties, captives of this industry. Since it’s an industry built on taxpayer money — many schools get 90 percent or more of their revenue from federal student aid — it’s a monster that we created.

The Senators noted that former members of Congress were among those now persistently lobbying on behalf of for-profit colleges.  Conway reported the same about former attorneys general.

When it came time for questions, I noted that at last week’s Las Vegas convention of the for-profit college association APSCU, the group’s chief lobbyist (former Congressman Steve Gunderson) told attendees that critics of the industry were seeking “to advance their political or ideological agenda.” I asked the speakers if they agreed with that characterization, and also asked them to comment on a political culture where former legislators and chief law enforcement officers now lobby to avoid accountability for an industry that seems to be rife with waste, fraud, and abuse.

Biden responded that the issue “is not about politics, it’s about fraud.”  Conway said he personally would not want to lobby on behalf of such interests after leaving office.  He called practices in the for-profit college industry “unconscionable.” . . .

Continue reading. Ironic that we celebrate American independence today as the public falls under control of big business. Notice how once again the business simply writes a check. No one goes to prison. That’s why businesses continue to do this sort of thing: they make a lot more money than they pay in fines, so it makes business sense. The only thing that will change the equation is when senior executives start serving hard time.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2012 at 8:47 pm

Blaming the customers, not the companies

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A number of excellent points made by readers in James Fallows’s latest post. Really worth the click. And do consider that the current climate is way better than it will ever be again—at least for centuries. It’s going to go downhill from here.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2012 at 5:25 pm

New grandson starts to learn traditional wetshaving

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Here he is, born just last week:

Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Shaving

Climate Change Is Already Shrinking Crop Yields

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Probably the most destructive effect of climate change in the short-term (over the next 20 years, say) will be widespread crop failures, which I imagine will lead not only to great suffering and mass die-offs from famine (all animals, including humans) but also war: when one group of people have food and another do not, those who do not have food have nothing to lose. This has been predictable for years, and now it’s coming to pass. Tom Philpott reports for Mother Jones:

For years now, people have wondered how climate change will affect farming. How will humanity feed itself during a time of rising temperatures and recurring drought?

Here in the US, we’re starting to get a taste of things to come—and it’s bitter. Brutal heat is now roiling the main growing regions for corn, soy, and wheat, the biggest US crops. According to Bloomberg News, 71 percent of the Midwest is experiencing “drier-than-normal conditions,” and temperatures are projected to be above 90 degrees in large swaths of key corn/soy-growing states Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana through July 7 if not longer.

As a result, Goldman Sachs projects that this year’s corn yields will come in 7.5 percent below the USDA’s projection of 166 bushels an acre. (Why is a Wall Street behemoth like Goldman Sachs fussing over corn yields? That’s another story, altogether, and an interesting one). Accordingly, crop prices are rising steeply, Bloomberg reports.

Of course, we can’t tie any individual heat wave to long-term climate trends—there’s plenty of random weather variation even in times of climate stability. But we do know that hot, dry weather can stunt plant growth and reduce yields—and we also know that we can expect more hot, dry weather in key growing regions as the climate warms up.

I hope the current heat wave gets policymakers thinking about the effect of climate change on food, because for for a long time, the consensus was that global warming might be more or less neutral for agriculture. Sure, the thinking went, climate change will likely make droughts more common and make some already-hot areas too hot for farming; but it will also lengthen the growing season in cold-winter areas like the US Midwest, perhaps increasing crop yields. Also, all that carbon dioxide we’re pumping into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels would be manna to plants, allowing them to grow faster. These factors, many thought, would largely cancel each other out, and mean that climate change would have no great effect on global food production.

But back in 2008, a pair of researchers from the USDA and Columbia University shattered that comforting idea. In a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Statistics, they looked at three major US crops (corn, soy, and cotton) and found that rising temperatures would indeed cause a slight increase in crop yields—up to a certain point. But when temperatures climb above that critical threshold, yields would plunge dramatically. And here’s the kicker: At current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, average temperatures are expected to rise well above the critical levels identified by the researchers. As a result, they project that yields will fall by the end of this century by as much as 43 percent “under the slowest warming scenario” and 79 percent “under the most rapid warming scenario.”

The paper should have exploded like a bomb in US and even global policy circles. The US produces around 40 percent of the entire globe’s corn and soy, the authors pointed out. The global food system is highly geared to those crops, and dwindling production in the US heartland would be devastating. You’d think policymakers would have been compelled to act. Instead, they looked the other way. President Obama’s tepid push for a climate bill collapsed ignominiously in the Senate, and the much-ballyhooed Copenhagen global climate talks ended in a cloud of hot air.

And then in 2011, another major study, this one published in Science, found that . . .

Continue reading. People who have not been able to find jobs already feel desperate. Wait until we are unable to find food.

I find it strange how resolutely we march to our own doom. I think at this point it’s too late, so the coming couple of decades are going to be ugly. In the meantime, of course, the fossil fuel industry is doing everything it can to kill the effort to find alternative sources of energy while pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere as fast as they can.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2012 at 3:51 pm

Wasting our taxpayer money: The US government’s insane prohibition against industrial hemp

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Forget about drugs and marijuana a dangerous menace. Let’s just talk plain old farm crops, which is what industrial hemp is. DEA, always seeking (apparently) to expand its mission has long had some sort of grudge against industrial hemp. (What’s next? Corn? When I was a kid we tried smoking corn silk. (Doesn’t work out so well.))

Jill Richardson has an interesting article at AlterNet, which I’m finding is a treasure trove of interesting articles. This one begins:

David Bronner was recently arrested for attempting to eat a healthy breakfast. Does that sound stupid? Even once you know the details, it should sound stupid:  Bronner’s food of choice was bread spread with hemp seed oil he pressed himself from industrial hemp plants, which he did in front of the White House under a banner reading: “Dear Mr. President Let U.S. Farmers Grow Hemp.”

Bronner’s company, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, spends over $100,000 to buy over 20 tons of hemp seed oil from Canada each year to use in its soaps. Bronner wants to give that money to American farmers instead.

If it’s legal to use in soaps – and even to eat – then why is it illegal to grow here? Because according to the government, hemp is a drug. Specifically, it’s considered identical to its close cousin, marijuana. But Bronner says it is no more a drug than a poppyseed bagel. The plants he gathered seed from to press his oil in front of the White House had been tested to confirm they contained less than 0.3 percent THC, which means it would be “impossible to get a high of any kind” even from smoking extremely large quantities of it. A more likely result from smoking that much industrial hemp would be a bad headache or perhaps a sore throat.

Bronner explains that his protest was “the culmination of a lot of frustration,” saying, “We’re just sick and tired of this policy. It basically hands the world’s largest market for industrial hemp seed and fiber products to the Canadians, Europeans, and Chinese, who are laughing at us all the way to the bank.”

He and others have lobbied to legalize growing industrial hemp in the U.S. for more than a decade. The environmentally friendly soap company appreciates that hemp can be grown without toxic agrochemicals, but it’s the high omega-3 fatty acid content that really draws him to eating it and using it in his soaps. Bronner finds that the omega-3 content of hemp seed oil “makes the soap a lot smoother and emollient and less drying.” As a food, it has the “ideal ratio” of omega-6 to omega-3, about three to one.

Over the last half century, Americans have systematically removed omega 3 fatty acids from their diets, replacing them instead with omega 6 fatty acids. Within the human body, the two essential fatty acids “compete,” making the ratio of omega-6:omega-3 more important than the absolute quantity one eats of either one on its own. The 3:1 ratio of hemp seed oil is ideal, but most Americans eat 14 to 25 times more omega-6 than omega-3, causing a range of health problems.

Bronner and other hemp advocates were hopeful that Obama, who voted in favor of hemp cultivation twice as an Illinois state senator, would follow what they call a “rational science-based approach to hemp policy.” In addition to its use as a food and as a cosmetic, the plant offers uses as a fiber to make clothing or paper. Historically, Americans grew hemp until 1957, and during World War II, the government even encouraged farmers to grow it. The U.S. ships had hemp sails and the pioneers’ covered wagons were covered in — what else? — hemp. Over the past three years, hemp advocates have aimed to introduce Americans to this part of our history by holding an annual Hemp History Week.

Bronner’s protest action, which he undertook inside a specially designed cage that was difficult for the police to open or move, was held in conjunction with this year’s Hemp History Week. “As silly as this action is,” he says, “It’s 1/1000 as silly as this policy that’s forcing us to year after year after year send our money to Canada.” This is not his first protest either – he’s also been arrested for planting hemp on the lawn of the Drug Enforcement Agency headquarters in 2009.

Civil disobedience and violations of laws against industrial hemp are different from those of medical marijuana. A terminally ill patient only needs a few plants to satisfy their needs, and if they are arrested, the government often does itself a lot of harm, as the public sees the lunacy of arresting a patient getting relief from their intense pain. But a farmer requires many more plants – perhaps 10,000 plants, Bronner estimates – to commercially grow industrial hemp. The penalty for that farmer would be much stiffer than those imposed on a medical marijuana user, and to the farmer, it’s just not worth the risk. He or she could simply grow a different, legal crop. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2012 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Scotch whiskey and heather honey shave

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Late posting today, but a good shave—with one nick on the chin. I thought I had a good lather—and certainly it was a fragrant lather—from the Sweet Gale soap, using my trusty G.B. Kent BK4 brush, but either it was not protective enough or my attention wandered, and I got a good nick on the chin. (My Nik Is Sealed closed it immediately.) The Gillette Super Adjustable with an Astra Superior Platinum blade did a fine job otherwise.

I really liked the fragrance of TOBS Shave Shop aftershave: very barber shop, and high-end barber shop at that.

Great start to the day, which has been rather busier than I expected.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2012 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Shaving

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